The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and the century of racial segregation that followed.

Democrat Tom Harkin first introduced the measure years ago but wanted it passed on the eve of today’s Juneteenth celebration marking the end of the Civil War and the release of slaves.

“As we all know, for too long many in this country were not free,” Harkin said from the Senate floor. “Many lived in bondage. Many Americans were denied their basic human rights and liberty… Millions were kidnapped from their homeland, suffered unimaginable hardships, including death, during the voyage to America… a crime against humanity.”

Republican Sam Brownback said those who question the need for an apology or say the nation should simply move beyond whatever was done long ago miss the point.

“My experience has been that, until you actually acknowledge the wrong that’s done and say, ‘I did this, and it was wrong, and I apologize,’ that there remains a barrier there. There remains something you just can’t get over no matter how many words you want to put around it…. That’s why apologies are tough.”

The resolution includes a disclaimer saying that nothing in it supports or authorizes the payment of reparations to the descendents of slaves.

Harkin said the House will soon take up the measure and that a formal celebration will be held next month.

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